The Fish and Game Council agreed this week to allow raccoon trappers to use leghold traps that opponents say have been outlawed since 1984.
The exclusionary traps are designed to capture the leg of a raccoon or opossum that reaches into it to find food, unlike other leghold traps that can also snare birds, deer, dogs or other animals.
“They’re significantly different from the old steel-jaw leghold traps,” said Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Only animals that have some degree of manual dexterity for reaching – primarily raccoons and opossums – would be able to get into the trap. The foothold trap grabs onto them.”
Hajna said trappers asked for the change because the proposed traps are more portable than the cumbersome box ones.
Opponents say these traps are just as cruel and fit the definition of leghold traps that New Jersey lawmakers outlawed a generation ago.
“They claim they’re more humane because they’re more selective,” said John Hadidian, a scientist with the Humane Society of the United States. “But that’s a misuse of the word. They may be more selective, but the amount of suffering and pain they cause is not humane at all.”
A 2013 economic survey found that New Jersey trappers generated about $576,000 per year in fur sales. New Jersey has about 1,200 trappers statewide, including about 300 who live in Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic and Ocean counties.
For years, New Jersey fur trappers have used box traps that corral the raccoon, opossum or occasional stray cat until the trapper returns to kill the fur-bearing animal or release the unwanted one.
Officers with the New Jersey Fur Trappers Association could not be reached for comment Friday.
Susan Russell, of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, said she fought fur trappers in 1984 to outlaw leghold traps. Now she is making the same argument she made 30 years ago.
“All of these things that horrified the public in the 1980s are still present,” she said. “Raccoons and foxes historically chewed off their feet to get loose from these leghold traps.”
D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist from Egg Harbor Township, opposes all leghold traps on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute based in Washington.
He said the traps the Game Council allowed this week still have the potential of snaring a stray cat that investigates the baited trap.
The traps have the clamping force to break bones, he said.
“This is a semantics issue. The Fish and Game Council is trying to subvert this law by calling these traps something else. It’s the same thing,” he said. “They’re all the same and all covered by the 1984 ban.”
Lawmakers introduced a concurrent resolution calling the Fish and Game Council’s proposal inconsistent with the 1984 law banning steel-jaw leghold traps. The resolution was sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union.
“The leghold traps also capture other animals and that’s the problem,” he said. “In the process, they’re very harmful and painful. The box traps that they have been using for 30 years don’t harm other species if they catch them.”
Lesniak said the Legislature can overrule the Game Council’s decision independent of the governor’s office.